Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Take a hike

This Fourth of July led me to a back-country epiphany. My wife and I were hiking in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains for four days, spending part of each day traveling well-marked trails and (by choice) another part bushwhacking off trail. The on-trail time proved wonderfully scenic as this Exhibit A above Toxaway Lake demonstrates:

Being able to follow clearly demarcated and well-signed paths made for confident, decisive movement through sublime terrain. In comparison, off-trail adventures meant halting progress, occasional missteps, or even backtracking to find a better (read: passable) way. Given those avoidable difficulties, I've been reflecting since, why even bother leaving the path in the first place? My conclusion arrived via analogy -- concocted by my teacher brain, on the clock even in mid-summer.

The trail confers explicit directions, showing one way to proceed in all its glory, making each next step comfortingly obvious. It represents the direct instruction of the hiking world! In comparison, leaving the trail behind opens up new possibilities for simultaneous exploration and confusion. Bushwhacking is genius hour, or whatever name you want to brand open-ended inquiry. Getting from point A to point B or beyond becomes an unspecified puzzle versus connect-the-dots. That uncertainty can frustrate as well as invigorate, and I came to realize how much its enjoyment depends on all the paths I've walked before plus time spent with more-seasoned hikers who've shown me the way(s).

I'll close by repeating words from Marcia Tate that I shared less than a month ago: "If you're not modeling what you're teaching, then you're teaching something else." By way of my epiphany, I'll add: Model both how and why to stay on a particular path along with when and why to diverge where the trail hasn't yet been blazed.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Apologies, William Carlos Williams

For the wheelbarrow

How much depends

a sulfured

perched above
the river

beside the dark

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Great Googly moogly?

I, Willy Wonka, have decided to allow five children--just five, mind you, and no more--to visit my factory this year. These lucky five will be shown around personally by me, and they will be allowed to see all the secrets and the magic of my factory. (From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl)

I spent last Wednesday in one of Google's 'factories,' a sparkling new shop set up six months ago. A group of educators and I learned about Applied Digital Skills and had a tour of the Wonka-eque (Wonky?) premises.

The tour began in this forested lobby:
Our guide explained how each of the office's four floors revolved around a Colorado motif. Interestingly, we got the inside scoop that, while these are actual trees, they're not actually native aspens but birches, which hold up better indoors.

We took the stairs to the top story, a mountain-themed redoubt where Googlers can savor "vegetable-forward" breakfasts and lunches along with the view:

Around the corner, to capture the alpine feel, sat a couple of ski gondolas like this one:

They double as cones of silence for on-the-fly collaboration. More inside dope: Turns out retired Rocky Mountain gondolas were too pricey, so Google imported theirs from Europe.

On to Google's library, a quiet, darkened zone for reflective work. My irony detector, though, split the silence when I noticed one of the original search engines shelved in the home of our era's leading search engine:

Other floors nodded to the state's camping and mining past/present. Yes, there were also indoor gyms and a rock climbing wall thoughtfully stocked with "community shoes." (A group of fitness fanatics jogged past our tour, chugging down the stairs during their mid-day workout!) The first floor featured a bike shop, inaugurated to memorialize an employee who lost his life while pedaling, the victim of a hit-and-run.

The whole thing felt unreal, even with the very real presence of workers at desks clicking keyboards. I thought about nibbling-around-the-edges classroom redesigns (not to be under-rated, to be sure) even as my mind reeled at what Google had wrought from scratch for a reported $130 million.

I found uneasy the ease with which show and substance mingled. (Side note: Having read The Circle by Dave Eggers, this truth felt stranger than his fiction.) On one hand, strive for work-life balance, the facility announced; on the other hand, the corporate culture preached, don't stop working. As the tour guide summarized, "The people who fail in tech are the ones who are like, 'We did it.' " Instead, she described how workers here are never finished; they're always adapting. That sentiment felt like one touchstone of commonality in their professional experience and mine.

Time to cut off this slice. My irony detector is going off again as I finalize this writing via a Google product linked to my Google account.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Pupu platter

I fell off the writing horse last week, and now I'm picking myself up along with fragments I've been gathering this June.

There's this chestnut from Colum McCann in Letters to a Young Writer:“Be a student, not a teacher, even when you teach” (3), which makes me aspire to be a life-long student more than the tritely alliterative life-long learner.

Marcia Tate reminded me of what ought to be cardinal classroom rule: "If you're not modeling what you're teaching, then you're teaching something else."

Kristin Kochheiser tipped me off to Noisli, a tool I suspect might prove useful when students ask whether they may listen to music while they work.

Kevin Croghan pointed me towards the Glossary of Education Reform, so I'll never (hopefully) feel mugged by school jargon again.

Katie Wolfson introduced me to an intriguing question matrix (see second page) that I suspect may support students in generating their own better questions.

Joe Marquez showed me a more elegant shortcut to split-screen displays with the Dualless extension.

Jonathan Gottschall, in The Storytelling Animal, taught me: "Just as flight simulators allow pilots to train safely, stories safely train us for the big challenges of the social world." (58)

And lastly, I learned that southwestern North Dakota is crawling with ticks, which might just be a topic for a later slice.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

YOLO: A Reading Wars Story

The school year that just concluded put the idea of implicit bias on my radar. (A sentence that still feels slightly oxymoronic.) Then, last week, I finished Language at the Speed of Sight by Mark Seidenberg, nonfiction about recent scientific research into how readers acquire those skills. Among the author's claims: “People are unreliable narrators of their own cognitive lives… Being an expert reader doesn’t make you an expert about reading.” (4) And: "A good teacher has to be a good observer to be sure... [yet] What people observe depends on what they already believe." (261) See: Confirmation Bias. Seidenberg proceeded to kick me right in the biases by highlighting how I emphasize comprehension with middle-school readers over phoneme/grapheme know-how. In Seidenberg's analysis, those latter elements deserve more conscientious attention for many who struggle to read efficiently because so-called basic skills turn out to be both trickier and more essential to master than they're credited. Seidenberg's leading impulse leans conservative as he suggests spending less time and energy defining literacy in broad, multiple, multimedia terms and more time shoring up the phoneme and grapheme pathways that interact synergistically with semantic understanding in the most adept readers. He makes a compelling, readable research-based case. Even if making meaning remains the prime reading purpose, in my view, perhaps kindling sound-letter skills, even for tweens and teens, can feed their comprehension fire.

In contrast to the unsettling pauses Language at the Speed of Sight gave me, my next summer read felt like a cozy blanket: Renew! by Shawna Coppola. The focus here is on writing, particularly in multiple and multimedia terms. As Coppola writes, ""With visual composition becoming ever more ubiquitous in our world outside of school...wouldn't it make sense to collectively broaden our idea of what it means to 'write' within school?" (43) Even as Coppola draws on numerous literacy luminaries to make this case, I keep hearing Seidenberg's voice in my other ear, how the education system is dysfunctional because of how its “Allegiance to great theorists of the past obviates the burden of engaging newer research.” (260) I wonder: What if my efforts to coach students to write more broadly is shortchanging their writing fundamentals, paralleling Seidenberg's main claim about much present-day reading instruction?

Even as I hold that question in my head, it doesn't feel true. A feeling that could benefit from bolstering. Given that I favor both/and pedagogies over spurious either/or dichotomies, I'd do well to marshal some scientific research in service of my inner Seidenberg. I should be better prepared to justify why I work with students the ways I do, how I see our work progressing towards more powerful literacy -- or literacies.

With such notions tumbling around my brain, I came across these lines Sunday in Colum McCann's Letters to a Young Writer: "There are no rules. Or if there are any rules, they are only there to be broken. Embrace these contradictions. You must be prepared to hold two or more opposing ideas in the palms of your hands at the exact same time." (6)

Which leads to me a likely next step: I've started to see this summer-reading-enriched blog draft as tracing the gist of a professional mission statement a la Joy Kirr. More writing and rewriting (and reading!) to come...

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I can't believe it's not a run-on sentence 5

File this under first-world problems or world's mildest rant: I'm on an airplane, and the seat doesn't recline; in fact, the majority of the seats don't recline, and my understanding is that reclining is now (at least on one airline) among the services that can command a fee -- along with carrying on luggage, receiving food or drinks besides water, choosing where and next to whom one sits, and having additional legroom -- which qualifies as a disappointing development, in any world, even one where I'm miraculously whisked thousands of miles in mere hours.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Soup's IN

I ate my first soup dumpling more than 20 years ago in New York City. It was a culinary locked-room mystery: a supple pouch sealing in gingery broth and a porky filling. "How'd the soup get in there?" my fellow diners and I marveled. (Newsflash! Secret's out.)

Our memorable inaugural bite came at a joint whose reputation was built on their xiaolongbao, Joe's Shanghai, so when I left New York behind, I figured that meant soup dumplings, too.

Still, in these western parts, my comestible radar has detected their presence three times in the intervening decades. Expectations have been high on each occasion, mostly leading to disappointment -- dumplings that were insufficiently soupy or not hot enough, even a little rubbery.

Third time, though, was the Goldilocks charm last week. A new place right around the corner from home offers the closest approximation of the savory deliciousness I remember. Eat your heart out, Proust! You can have have your Madeleines; I'll be in the corner slurping from a deep spoon.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Win - win

Students and I are running through the semester's end game, reviewing expectations for what they're collecting in their digital portfolios and how their grades will reflect those components, when eighth-grader Thomas speaks up. "I put together this spreadsheet if any of you are interested," he says, or words to that effect. "Let me know if you want me to share it. It can help you determine what you need to do to reach your grade goals."

I follow up with Thomas, and he shows me how his table crunches together individual elements to demonstrate whether students' standard-by-standard performance is or isn't on track for their desired finish line. (He's made a grade-book sandbox!) If a con in this system is some students calculating to the fraction of a point what's the least they need to do to achieve what they deem success, I figure the pro is more students feeling like savvy, informed players of the game. I'm calling Thomas' ingenuity and independence, not to mention willingness to share his hack with others, a win.

A second win reveals itself in a conference with another eighth grader, Evan. He's describing progress he's noticed this year in his speaking skills, and he reminds me of a connection we had talked about earlier between performing music (a passion of his) and making formal presentations at school. He tells me how it finally clicks for him: how he can get in a speaking 'zone' that resembles how he feels playing music. When it's time to speak in school, he's now less self-conscious as he lets his words, gestures, and voice work together more freely to convey his message. Even without a guitar, he channels the feeling of being a rock star who commands the stage. I'm calling that win number two.

While the ends of school years are frenetic, they're also time to celebrate learners who continue putting valuable pieces together. (Another Slice of Life blogger reminded me of that today.)

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Series of Simultaneously Unfortunate & Fortunate Events

I'm on a cross-country flight, unexpectedly.
I'm reading a book when the flight attendant announces the onboard wi-fi system isn't working, so all passengers may enjoy complimentary DIRECTV by way of apology.
I decide I'll check out the in-flight movies to see what's on that I might've missed in theaters.
I settle on "The Post."
I watch actor Tom Hanks playing Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee say, "The only way to assert the right to publish is to publish."
I reflect on how that's not only true in times of political crisis but also in humble matters of personal writing like blogging.
I write this and press a button that says Publish.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Defensive thriving

My wife and I built two pieces of Ikea furniture last week. As a defensive pessimist, I entered the experience determined to keep my expectations comfortably low.

Forty-five minutes spent on hold trying to pin down over the phone a delivery time left me stirred up by dire recordings. Improperly anchored furnishings, I was told repeatedly, might fall and crush me or those I loved. (Turns out this direness may be deserved given the scope of a nearly two-year-old recall...) Thankfully, our low-slung models provided little or no danger.

I proceeded to a new gripe. "There'll probably be pieces missing," I scoffed. Turns out there were, specifically the mattress for the bed, but my wife's persistence rectified that glaring oversight.

Our woes proved to be predictable and easily overcome:
  • One poorly machined screw that we could hand tighten in an easy-to-reach spot
  • Two metal rails whose screw holes didn't align with the unintuitive diagram ("Why don't they use words?" my wife asked.) until we realized that we needed to reverse their sides in the bed frame
  • Fabric wrinkles smoothing themselves out as we speak since we skipped the optional ironing step
We finished our projects slightly ahead of schedule -- a daybed, a desk, and our relationship intact. (Yay, zeugma!) Defensive pessimism never felt so good, or at least not so bad.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Triangle trade

I spent March writing daily as part of Two Writing Teachers' annual Slice of Life Story Challenge. Then, 11 days ago, I learned that luck broke my way: I'd be receiving, as a prize for my participation, a bundle of picture books donated by MacMillan Publishers. Those books turned up at school Monday in a burly bubble envelope. This morning, I felt the joy of dropping by our school library to donate the titles. Our librarian beamed as only librarians can in the presence of new books. She flipped through the pages; she gave them a smell; she pronounced herself delighted.

Let's stop and think about that for one more moment... The words I informally published in virtual spaces led to formally published words occupying actual spaces (and, hopefully soon, young hands), leading me to dream up yet more words to describe these dizzying literacy transactions.

One of those words ought to be: Thanks, directed at those who lead the TWT blog as well as the donors who've generously incentivized challenges.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Regimen meets regiments

The weather in these parts has lately served up (sporadic, unreliable) springtime, so I hopped on my bicycle to pedal to school Monday morning. Another factor in my favor: Multi-use paths web my town, and they're delightfully uncrowded around 6:30 in the morning. Usually.

First sign of trouble: A man standing on the side of the path holding what I surmised to be, as I whizzed by, a stopwatch. Having encountered this scenario before, I knew to expect runners. Seconds later, I came upon the first mob stampeding my way, wearing yellow t-shirts marked with big block blue letters: N-A-V-Y. The Reserve Officers' Training Corps from the nearby university was getting after it this morning. [Side note of interest to English teachers and other word nerds: Corps has the same form whether it's singular or plural, but the pronunciation varies from the singular kor to the plural korz.]

The side note is relevant because it turned out I had more corps with which to contend. [I will avoid a side note editorializing about stilted constructions that result from trying not end a sentence on a preposition.] Having just gotten clear of the yellow fellows, I noticed ahead a group of 50-plus in sporty garb massing impenetrably across the path. ("I need to get a bell," I thought to myself.) I shouted a hearty, "Good morning," which was answered by echoes of: "Bike!" "Bike!" "Bike!" The drab green sea then parted for me to coast through. [Side note: I'm leaving that last preposition right where it is.]

My bike and I gathered speed for a moment until we encountered a third battalion. These young soldiers had on full fatigues, heavy packs, and clomping boots that echoed mightily as they shuffled down the path in time.

"Might the Air Force be somewhere overhead this morning, unseen?" I wondered, picking up my own left-left, left-right-left cadence.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The temperature today

You know that temperature?

The one where it rains early -- snows even --
then clears by midmorning so the world feels rinsed shiny-clean
and the spring sun gleams impossibly bright?

The one where the air is Peppermint Patty cool,
yet you can still feel warm solar fingers on your face?

The one where, if you go out running on a trail that has just had enough time to dry out,
you can't keep from smiling.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Play ball or something else

Before I was a teacher, I was a sports writer, and I still have a softish spot in my heart for that section of the newspaper -- for newspapers as a whole, truthfully, give or take the business pages.

This appreciation for artful writing about games's predictable unpredictability lands April, with its sports smorgasbord, as my favorite calendar month. Among its offerings: the new professional baseball season being unwrapped even as the closing moments of March Madness overrun their eponymous bounds; top-level basketball and hockey leagues upshifting from tedious regular seasons to high-stakes playoffs; and football, which seems to lack any off season of note, ramping up to its annual draft. I might even turn half an eye to the Masters, though golf doesn't rate much above the business pages in my sometimes curmudgeonly estimation.

Yup, it's a heady month to be a sports fan.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Two cinquains, to go - 3.31 #sol18 Story Challenge

my quirkiest
slicing spots: underground
parking garage, poaching feeble

in a
desperate bid,
before driving away,
to file my last first draft of this

Friday, March 30, 2018

O Sol é Para Todos - 3.30 #sol18 Story Challenge

The iron woman turned on Jamie. "Stop screaming," she said crisply. "Stop it this instant. You'll frighten the horses."
Jamie stopped. He looked around. "What horses?"
The iron woman said, "It's a figure of speech." (The War That Save My Life, page 73)
Middle-schoolers and I have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and an eighth grader approached me before spring break with the following tidbit: "Mr. Rozinsky, did you know that the book isn't even called To Kill a Mockingbird in Brazil where my mom's from?"

"I had no idea," I replied. "What's it called?"

"In Portuguese, the translation is, 'The Sun Rises for Everyone,' " he told me.

We followed this tangent into how different languages have their own idioms, which usually don't translate without meaning being lost irretrievably. We weighed the impacts of the English and Portuguese alternatives in this case, with the student preferring the less idiosyncratic sun-based one.

I'm curious to hear his latest thinking once he finishes the novel.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

O, Canada - 3.29 #sol18 Story Challenge

There's a lot I like about Canada, and that feeling antedates any sentiments particular to the 2016 election and its aftermath. This good will has only intensified since I saw the TV show Canada Reads for the first time Wednesday.

Five panelists (celebrities, some Canucks might say) take turns over four days championing a book that they believe all Canadians should read. True to reality-programming form, one title is voted off the island each episode by those same panelists until a single book remains as that year's winner. The victor emerged today as I heard repeatedly via CBC radio headlines.

An entire country using its public media to champion communal reading? Canada, you're not my native land, but in this moment, you feel like home.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Going up (continued) - 3.28 #sol18 Story Challenge

Question came up regarding Tuesday's slice: "How high did you go?" To answer, about 7,300 feet.

Today's high point in clearer, drier conditions, 7,700 feet, which led to a run called Discipline -- a fitting title, I figure, near the end of a month when we're trying to write daily.

Another question: "What was it like coming down?" Like simultaneously falling and dancing through airy pudding.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Going up - 3.27 #sol18 Story Challenge

8:04 a.m. - elevation 1,570 feet - At the bus stop in town, it's pouring rain. I'm wondering, skis in hand, "How this going to go?"

8:30 a.m. - elevation 1,680 feet - Shuffling through the gondola's crowded lift line, I notice a few tentative flakes falling amid what might otherwise be drizzle.

8:37 a.m. - elevation 2,440 feet - New gondola car now, having switched at a mid-station transfer. I can hear pecks against the windows from some manner of icy precipitation. Another passenger quips, "I wonder if we'll be able to get out. Car might be frozen shut."

8:46 a.m. - elevation 5,319 feet - The gondola doors do in fact open, and I step out into dumping snow. I drop my skis with two soft whumpfs, fasten my bindings, and head for the next lift that heads even higher up the mountain.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Wolfe at the door - 3.26 #sol18 Story Challenge

One of the titles on my e-reader this spring break is Too Many Cooks, book five in Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series. I was in the mood for a classic mystery, and a conversation with a bus driver who happens to be an enthusiastic reader (not Mr. Lenticular Clouds) pointed me in this direction. Why the fifth book? That's what the library had for me to borrow. And jumping into the series already underway hasn't proven a problem -- probably a sign that Stout's formula is a winning one.

So far, I'm enjoying the book. Despite (or maybe because of) being published in 1938, it feels simultaneously familiar and witty and fresh. Stout ticks familiar boxes: prickly, idiosyncratic detective; remarkably perceptive second-fiddle sidekick; an inevitable murder perpetrated by someone in the cast of usual suspects, replete with at least one femme fatale and numerous red herrings. Plus, in what I choose to take as an added bonus, there are time-capsule expressions and beliefs that leave no doubt this sometimes politically incorrect story is situated in an era that pre-dates so much momentous 20th century history.

Every generation has its escapist beach reading, and I'm unexpectedly glad to be slumming with my grandparents'.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Getting my fill - 3.25 #sol18 Story Challenge

I've always liked the word 'heuristics.' My understanding is that it has to do with simple rules that form scripts, which can make nifty mental shortcuts or sometimes get us in trouble with assumptions that no longer apply. The word occurred to me today when I went to fill up a car that's not mine and confronted this:
Admittedly, my own automobile has been around quite a few blocks, so we've developed plenty of our own heuristics. Maybe this is now how it is in recent-vintage makes/models -- no gas cap needing to be unscrewed, just a spring-loaded door through which to poke the pump nozzle. Or maybe there's a brave, new, gas cap-less world soon coming to a tank near you.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Temperature tantrum - 3.24 #sol18 Story Challenge

"What's a clerihew?" you ask. "This is," I reply.

The pervasive influence on me of one Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit
means up North I can't quite get my clothing layers right.
Temperature numbers look colder than they actually feel,
which means I'm getting heated figuring this Celsius deal.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Different kind of cloud-based - 3.23 #sol18 Story Challenge


On the bus, the passenger in the backwards baseball cap who may or may not be a little drunk, staggers to the front, taking the seat closest to the driver.

"D'you see those clouds?" he asks, his fingers waving vaguely west to the disc-shaped puffs.

"Those are called lenticular clouds," the driver explains. "We often get 'em over the mountains."

"Lunaticular?" the passenger asks.

"LENticular," the driver enunciates.

The passenger strokes his chin and continues sifting the syllables.


On a brown field strewn with fresh plugs of dirt from the aerator still humming laps nearby, players chase Frisbees until someone points and shouts.

"Hey, look at those clouds!" he says.

All of us crane our necks toward the sinewy wisps twisting against an impossibly blue backdrop so high overhead.

"I'm starting to feel dizzy," someone else says.

We all are.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Accidental acronym - 3.22 #sol18 Story Challenge

Clustered in the classroom entryway today, three students and I are reading aloud Night by Elie Wiesel. I hear this from one of the readers: "One day when I don't even know was venting his fury, I happened to cross his path."

Come again? Taking one of the pages that's proven useful from Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion, I punch the error. I repeat out loud, "I don't even know was venting his fury," except I change my intonation so it sounds like a question. The by-now familiar subtexts of that question: "Is what you said what you really read? Does that actually make sense?"

"That's what's in the text," the student tells me, "I don't even know."

"It's Idek," another student responds, voice tinged with impatience. "That's somebody's name."

LOL. We all do -- though that's not an expression I've associated before with this Holocaust memoir.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Observation observation - 3.21 #sol18 Story Challenge

Moment during class Tuesday that might not bear repeating, but it's too amusing not to... Students were making pitches proposing ideas for new elective courses. Each speech lasted about two minutes, and individual or paired presenters rotated seamlessly to the front of the room, having been previously briefed on the random order. Whether speaking or listening, students were locked in, especially considering this was the day's final period. Mean time, I was occupied with rubrics where I hastily jotted PVLEGS feedback for later sharing about strengths and struggles I noticed in their delivery. At one point during a presentation, I heard the classroom door close. By the time I looked up, there was no student coming or going, so I redistributed my attention between the rubric and speaker. "Must be a quick, stealthy bathroom trip," I figured, noting the hall pass no longer hanging in its usual spot. A few moments of presenting passed, and then I heard the muffled squawk of a walkie-talkie summoning someone or other to channel two. That's when I realized our assistant principal had been the stealthy one, sliding into an empty seat by the door to observe the proceedings informally.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Inception - 3.19 #sol18 Story Challenge

I don't dream much, or at least I can't remember most of the times I do, so this morning's early hours were memorable.

I realized I was in a dream. It involved a conversation with two other people who were simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar. We were seated around a non-descript living room. (I recall a couch with plaid fabric.) We were talking about ski trips. During the chat, I had a distinct thought: "This moment is not happening; I'm actually sleeping in my bed right now."

That intrusive idea proved enough to stir me. I rolled over, checked the alarm clock, which reported some hour that started with a four, and then I rolled back again, content to doze off again for hours.

Minutes later, though, the radio blared, startling me awake for good. I felt disoriented. I wondered how I'd been cheated out of those hours of sleep. Then, I realized the likely truth: my alarm-clock check had been a misleading dream within my dream.

As I said, I don't dream much but, when I do, I get my money's worth

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Containment strategy - 3.18 #sol18 Story Challenge

Saturday night, I watched a movie. It was about water, love, and how neither can be contained forever. Sunday afternoon, I caught a few minutes of a podcast about a wall that (depending on whom you ask) does and does not exist between the Koreas.

Both texts seem to advocate letting water, in all its literal and metaphorical forms, find its own level. Put another way: Let people figure out their own shapes versus boxing them in.

Such forces of containment are writ large in each text: government, family, media, culture, habit, to name a few. While these exert pressure on me, too, on my mind's periphery lately are boxes I don't -- can't? -- see, implicit biases hemming in my identity for now.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

New shoes - 3.17 #sol18 Story Challenge

Took a new pair of running shoes out on the trail this morning, which sent me thinking back to ghosts of footwear past...

My first pair of racing shoes in high school, their splash of color like the Miami Dolphins out of place on grimy trails.

Another favorite pair from that era, reissued in recent years in same bright red, now (gulp) labeled 'vintage' or 'classic.'

The beefy pair that trundled up and over Imogene Pass; the svelte pair that glided up and down the Seven Sisters.

These footwear flashbacks got me thinking about a tagline from nearly 30 years ago: Mars Blackmon may have been on to something.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Buzzer beater - 3.16 #sol18 Story Challenge

I'm vegging out in front of college basketball when a thought occurs: "You haven't written a slice yet today." My eyes flash to the cable-box clock. It's 9:30. I'm not panicked; coolly, I set fingertips to keys so my self-styled streak may proceed.

Can't say the same for #1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. "Guess we've seen it all now," muses broadcaster Jim Spanarkel. Hardly. Whether dribbled or written, that's still why we play the games, to see what there is to see -- including 15 more rounds in this Story Challenge.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Dawn patrol - 3.15 #sol18 Story Challenge

That meeting I had this morning necessitated catching an earlier bus to work. Turns out the silver lining of this schedule change was actually a range of different colors: pink salmon, warm orange, purple haze, then azure gradations from cornflower to cobalt.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March Madness - 3.14 #sol18 Story Challenge

There's something I appreciate about the clarity of a 64- (or 68-) team bracket that will sift opponents over about two weeks until just one winner remains standing. It comforts -- like a 

favorite security blanket -- on a day buffeted by students walking out to take a principled stand,

pi’s digits spinning out with no apparent end,

and the unexpected departure

of a


Revision Decision: Taking a page from Andy Schoenborn's blog, I wanted to reflect on the ultimate shape of today's slice. What began as nondescript prose became something different when I started playing around with verse forms. What if I revised the initial draft and started grouping words in brackets of 32, 16, 8, 4, 2, 1?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Rhetorical tanka - 3.13 #sol18 Story Challenge

"You should run your life not by the calendar, but by how you feel." -John Glenn

Why has this meeting
popped up on my calendar,
its cryptic topic
vexing me with vague questions,
creeping sense I'm unprepared?

Monday, March 12, 2018

Times literally changin' - 3.12 #sol18 Story Challenge

Last week, after months of dialogue, school leaders where I teach officially announced we will be changing our schedule. We will operate with eight periods, rather than seven, and more block periods will be another notable feature. Based on what's known so far, here's a quick vision of now versus later (numbers inside boxes represent minutes):
My feelings are mixed, though more positive than negative. The opportunity to rethink learning with students -- including the many variables of curricula, classwork, homework, assessments, and related pedagogies -- feels full of possibilities. That thrill is matched, for me, by trepidation about making workable changes ready to roll out in August. Questions are far outstripping answers at this point, and I'm skeptical that enough resources (including time) will be formally allotted to sift the former in search of the latter.

So, here are two actions steps I'm taking...

  • Responding to an expedited call for elective proposals by guiding students to create and evaluate their own in our English classes leading up to Spring Break
  • Asking this big virtual room of experts about your experiences that might prove instructive: What winning electives do your schools offer? What are some ways you and your students get the most from block schedules/periods?
Thanks for contributing slices of your expertise as you're able!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hearts of darkness - 3.11 #sol18 Story Challenge

Poking deep into a defunct silver mine tunnel above Batopilas, Mexico
Forgetting about the walnuts (until I smelled them) in the ticking toaster
Holding breath as theater lights drop, before movie screen's initial flicker
Sipping on an angled snifter of Perennial Artisan Ales' 17 imperial stout
Peeling my eyes open to night this first morning of daylight saving time

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Son of a pun - 3.10 #sol18 Story Challenge

Today, I finished reading The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack, a title I noticed in an eighth grader's hands a few weeks back. For word-play fans, it's a treat replete with examples, history, and analysis.

My dad (who regularly reads what I write here) remains an inveterate punster, so the quote I'm plucking from page 80 is for him. It originally appears in Thomas Sheridan's 1719 Ars Punica:
Punning, of all arts and sciences, is the most extraordinary: for all others are circumscribed by certain bounds; but this alone is found to have no limits, because, to excel therein requires a more extensive knowledge of all things, A punner must be a man of the greatest natural abilities, and of the best accomplishments: his wit must be poignant and fruitful, his understanding clear and distinct, his imagination delicate and cheerful...
To that I say -- and I suspect my mom (who also reads what I write here and regularly rolls her eyes at my dad's jokes) would agree -- just because punning has no limits doesn't mean it shouldn't. Here's a quote for mom, in which Pollack posits that audiences often groan at puns, "because it's a quick convenient shorthand for conveying a tangle of emotions" (111).

Hope you two laugh birds are enjoying chuckles, among other mixed emotions, with this chip off the old blog.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Semi-autonomous vehicle - 3.9 #sol18 Story Challenge

While I marvel in many ways at this era's smart technology, the cynic in me frets about how it's making me dumber. Case in point: I used to remember phone numbers, and now I don't. Perhaps that's not the finest indicator of smarts, yet it's why I'm glad my car doesn't have a navigation system. That means my sense of direction and map-reading abilities may last longer than they might otherwise, or so my slipshod thinking goes.

That context hopefully illuminates my mixed feelings Thursday night when I pedaled through unfamiliar streets, heading west from Stapleton towards Union Station in downtown Denver. Daylight dwindled as I raced to catch the next transit bus I hoped would take me most of the miles home. In my jacket pocket, my phone with the volume turned all the way up chirped directions from a map app, loud enough to be heard over both wind and ticking gears.

A prim digital voice kept me on track or made immediate course corrections when I went astray -- like when I followed a signed turn to the station only to realize what would've been great if I were driving a car was too dangerous for a boy on a bike in the dark. My pocket computer coaxed me back to safety through some manner of seamless GPS magic, and I made the bus, where it felt decadent to have an open spot next to me so my chagrin had somewhere to sit.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Very superstitious - 3.8 #sol18 Story Challenge

To all those in the East who slept in your inside-out pajamas with spoons tucked under your pillows, or flushed ice cubes down your toilets, or performed elaborate snow dances, I hope you are snuggled in, safe and sound, and I thank you.

Your powerful mojo has sent unexpected ripples west: In these parts, though today's forecast calls for sun and temperatures in the 60s, school's closed.